Economy

Slum Evictions Show Harsh Reality of Rio Olympics Inequality

Vila Autodromo, a favela near the epicenter of Rio's Olympics, was razed to the ground to make way for the mega-event. But 20 families refused to leave.

Photo Credit: Telesur

On the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic park, far from the spotlight shone on the gleaming, commercial athletic spectacle, a group of residents that resisted a community-wide eviction order is struggling to rebuild their lives.

The Vila Autodromo favela, a fishing community on the edge of the Jacarepagua lagoon near the site of the Olympic park, was home to 600 families just a few years ago. But once Brazil won the Olympic bid, it was also in the path of planned roads, parking lots, and “cleaned-up” banks of the lagoon. “These are the exclusion games,” Sandra de Souza, a Vila Autodromo resident who refused to leave the neighborhood, told The Independent. “It is an event by the rich for the rich.”

Authorities offered to pay off residents or relocate them into nearby apartment complexes as a way to force them out of their homes. Many residents accepted the offer, but a resilient group of 20 families refused to give up the fight. While their homes were still bulldozed, they didn’t have to leave the ground they called home for years, and now are working to rebuild.

At a glance, the community bears little to no resemblance to what it once was, with the dozens of colorful houses chaotically strewn about swapped for straight rows of just 20 new bungalows. According to a report in The Independent, the area surrounding the Olympic Park is now “almost favela-free.” Some of the residents admit that their old homes were in ill-repair, but also held immense sentimental value and community bonds they weren’t willing to quickly abandon. “The new house is better,” Denise Costa dos Santos, who lived in the same home in Vila Autodromo for 26 years before it was torn down, told Reuters.

“My old house was rickety, but it was still full of memories.” The local government of Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, a member of unelected “interim” President Michel Temer’s right-wing PMDB party, has evicted and relocated tens of thousands of people from mostly poor communities in the leadup to the Olympic games, which kicked off Friday.

According to Reuters, Vila Autodromo was one of few favela communities that, despite its slum conditions in terms of inadequate sanitation, was free from raging drug gang violence that plagues many of Rio’s other favelas, home to about one fifth of the city’s six million people.

Now, with just over 3 percent of its former residents, Vila Autodromo faces the challenges of rebuilding the community they lost.

The residents of Vila Autodromo are some of tens of thousands of people who have been evicted to make way for the Olympics. Watchdog groups initially warned in the early phases of preparations that some 200,000 people could be at risk of displacement. Human rights groups have also reported a surge in police crackdowns in the city’s sprawling favelas leading up the the Olympics. Rio police have a notorious reputation of racist policing that disproportionately targets poor Black communities.

In Vila Autodromo, where the war on drugs is not a pretext for heavy-handed police responses like in other favelas like Alemao and Mare, hundreds of municipal guards were sent to carry out the evictions, part of a widespread heightened security campaign. A total of 82,000 police, military, and private security have been deployed for the Rio Olympics, which close on Aug. 21.

Olympics preparations, which take years, notoriously soar over initial budgets and come along with a slew of social costs including crackdowns on homeless people and poor communities in the name of “cleaning up” the streets for the international spotlight.

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